The Books that Shaped America

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It’s the ultimate summer reading list. The Library of Congress has announced its list of the 88 ‘Books That Shaped America.’ From Benjamin Franklin’s "Experiments and Observations on Electricity" to the late Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451" and from the "Scarlet Letter" to "The Cat in the Hat," the chronological list is diverse.

The Library of Congress claims that the list isn’t intended to be a “best of”. Instead, it's an eclectic mix of books that have contributed to the American conversation over the years. The exhibition of the 88 titles opens today.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of "Don’t Know Much About History" and the forthcoming "Don’t Know Much About American Presidents."

"These are books that influenced us as a nation," Davis says. "These are books that in a sense, got into the language. They're books that shaped who we are, or reflected where we are — books of consequence." 

Kicking off the list is "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain's classic novel. Thomas Paine's stirring pamphlet "Common Sense" takes its place alongside E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web," a mainstay in the arsenals of middle school English teachers across the country. Farther down lie "The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. DuBois, "Tarzan of the Apes" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak. It's an eclectic list of books that often only have nothing more in common than their American roots. 

"My number one miss is 'Hiroshima', by John Hersey," Davis says. Hersey's book is a collection of stories that he collected from survivors of the atomic bomb that was dropped by American forces on the Japanese city on August 5, 1945. Davis calls it "the most important book about the most important event in the 20th century." 

The author also makes cases for "Profiles in Courage" by John F. Kennedy, "Plymouth Plantation" by William Bradford, and "The Life of Washington" by Mason Weems. Weems' 1800 biography was the first to include the "cherry tree" anecdote, one of the most famous tales of a founding father.